James Pouillon, aka "the sign guy," was the abortion rights opponent gunned down in suburban Owosso, Michigan, early Friday morning. Shortly after his murder, a Facebook Friend of mine with a conservative political outlook posted the question: "Where is the outrage?"
Her point being that when famous abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered a few months ago, expressions of condolence from all sides of the abortion debate rocketed through the Internet within a short time.
My response to her was to wait. At that point, we didn't know if Pouillon had been targeted because of his abortion stance or whether the killer had some more personal motive. If this were a domestic killing of some sort, his abortion protests might have been totally unrelated.
Well, we now know what the authorities are telling us. According to the Detroit News:
"We believe Mr. Drake was not happy with the way Mr. Pouillon was protesting," said Chief Shiawassee County Assistant Prosecutor Sara Edwards.
The day that Dr. Tiller was killed, I was easily able to cull a series of condemnations from my e-box from individuals and organizations opposed to abortion and I posted excerpts from several of the statements here.
Those who made statements included Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; the president and board of directors of Catholics for Choice; Interfaith Alliance Board Chair the Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich; and Operation Rescue.
The suspect in Dr. Tiller's murder has been linked to some more extreme anti-abortion organizations, but not to any of the groups I just cited. Nonetheless, they felt some moral imperative to condemn the killing. And even if you think the statements were pro forma, the statements were
Condemnation from the other side of the debate was less surprising, and there was plenty of it.
Barack Obama issued his condolences before nightfall that Sunday.
Let's grant that Dr. Tiller was famous before he was killed and that nobody much outside of Owosso had ever heard of Pouillon a week ago. And let's also grant that nobody has come up with any connections thus far between the suspect in Pouillon's murder and any organization with any
stand concerning abortion.
But Pouillon is sure famous now. And two days after his murder, I can find few statements about it, pro forma or otherwise, on any of the websites of any of the prominent organizations that support abortion rights.
Not NARAL. Not NOW. Not Planned Parenthood. Not Catholics for Choice.
To his credit, President Obama did issue a statement Sunday. It wasn't long, but it was unequivocal: "The shooting last week in Michigan was deplorable," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House Sunday. "Whichever side of a public debate you're on, violence is never the right answer."
Is that so difficult?
From all the news accounts, Pouillon was an older man who trundled around an oxygen tank along with his awful signs. I can't find any photos, but from the descriptions I know the images he used: Bloody, graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. Images that could stir nightmares for students attending the school outide of which he had set up shop the day he was murdered.
But here's the thing: What he was doing wasn't simply legal, it was guaranteed protection by the U.S. Constitution. Like Dr. Tiller, he was doing nothing that gave any loony the right to violence. As with the murder of Dr. Tiller, the murder of Pouillon diminishes us all.
Pro forma matters. Even the obligatory boilerplate recognition that something bad has happened reinforces the broader cultural standards that there are lines that should not be crossed.
It's why there are always questions by the ignorant about why American Muslim organizations "don't condemn terrorism." And it's why American Muslim organizations do, routinely, issue statements of condemnation against acts of violence committed in the name of Islam.
I can't understand why any organization that lobbies in favor of abortion rights hasn't already put out a statement – on their websites and filling the media's e-boxes – saying that there is no room for the kind of violence that ended Pouillon's life.
And while the president of the United States cannot be expected to release a statement about every murder in America, I'm surprised that this one escaped his attention for as long as it did.
Whatever our position about abortion, surely there is no controversy that murderous violence against this particular protestor -- apparently targeted because of his protests --deserves to be condemned?